Networking: Connecting with Others

One of the best ways to learn about yourself and your career interests is to speak with individuals in fields of interest  Don’t let the term ‘networking’ intimidate you - talking with others is something you do daily.

THE VALUE OF A CONVERSATION

Depending on where you are in your career exploration and planning will inform the type of conversation you want to have.  Approaching each conversation with the genuine intention of learning and connecting will make the interaction more impactful for:

  • Exploring careers and industries
  • Gaining specific insight and advice
  • Establishing long-term contacts

WHAT DOES NETWORKING LOOK LIKE?

Networking is about having a conversation and for that reason it can take place anywhere. These conversations can range from informal to structured exchanges.  They can range from a 1 minute elevator ride to a 3 hour dinner.  The opportunity to connect with others is all around you.

As a student at Northwestern, you can participate in a variety of events/programs that provide an opportunity to connect with others, such as those listed below. While most events are free to you as a student, many programs with participation fees offer financial support or discounted rates.

  • Alumni events
  • Career fairs
  • Career treks
  • Conferences
  • Employer information sessions
  • Employer site visits
  • Externship programs
  • Guest speakers
  • Industry panels

A conversation or exchange is a great start, but it is just the beginning of an ongoing process that involves developing and maintaining relationships.

Step 1: Find Contacts

Your list of contacts includes a broad range of people both inside and outside your chosen field. Contacts fall into two categories: people you know and people you don’t.

 

People you know: friends, family, neighbors, coworkers, professors

People you don’t know, but identify with through: alumni groups, honor societies, professional organizations, employer-hosted events, social networking websites

 

An easy way to expand your network is by asking people you know to introduce you to people they know who work in your field.

Step 2: Initiate contact

The most common way to reach out to people you want to connect with is by email.  The benefit of email is that you can be comprehensive yet concise, while having the power to edit what you write until you hit send.  Your email should include the following information:

  • Introduction
  • Who referred you/how you found the contact
  • What you have in common (if applicable)
  • Why you’re reaching out/what you hope to learn
  • Specific request (such as 20 to 30 minutes to meet or talk)
Step 3: Prepare for conversation

Being prepared will enhance the quality of dialogue and allow you to leave a positive impression.  Here are a few things you can do in advance:

  • Research the industry and/or company
  • Identify what you want to learn from the meeting
  • Develop a list of questions you want to ask
  • Review your experiences: academic, extracurricular, and work
  • Examine and articulate your career interests and skills
  • Practice your introduction and talking about your experiences
Step 4: Engage

Even before the meeting starts, you can make a positive impression by dressing appropriately for the industry and arriving early for face-to-face encounters. For a phone or virtual meeting, secure a quiet space that has strong Internet service and wait until the scheduled time to call.

 

Start the conversation by sharing your professional introduction and expressing appreciation for the person’s time and willingness to connect with you. Then move into your prepared questions; use your questions as a guide and let the dialogue progress naturally. Demonstrate your genuine interest in what they are saying by actively listening and asking relevant follow-up questions.

 

While the focus will be on learning about your contact, assume that your contact will want to learn about you. Be comfortable articulating your skills, values, and interests, as well as how your experiences have influenced your career interests.

 

It’s important to respect your contact’s schedule and stay within the allotted time. As meetings nears an end, express appreciation for their time and contribution to your learning. It's also valuable to inquire about staying connected and for referrals of other people to talk with.

Step 5: After the meeting

After the meeting, review the highlights of the conversation and reflect upon their meaning for you.  It is helpful to take notes regarding your exchanges so that you can remember the details and have a point to reference at a later time.  Specifically, identify answers to the following questions:

  • What information did you gain and what information is still missing?
  • How did this exchange impact your overall career goals?
  • What are the next steps in your preparation?

Within two days, send a thank you note highlighting the value of the meeting and explicitly stating what you learned.

Step 6: Maintain contact

Because one exchange is just the start of the relationship, consider ways to maintain the connection. Aim to connect with your contacts quarterly—set reminders on your calendar so your good intentions are not lost. Consider mailing seasonal greeting cards, sending updates by email, forwarding interesting industry news and journal articles, and inviting contacts to occasional coffee breaks. By connecting with your contact on LinkedIn, you will be updated on any career changes they may make in the future. This provides a good opportunity to send a note of congratulations. 

 

Because you will be managing multiple contacts at a given time, it is important to stay organized:

  • Create a spreadsheet with each contact’s name
  • Date of exchange in the spreadsheet
  • Track outcome of the exchange
  • Indicate important notes, as well as action items for yourself
To stay on track, review your log periodically to ensure you are maintaining your contacts and making progress on your action items.